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Doing it the wellness way
Doctor wooed by natural medicine
Her own personal health journey prompted GP Dr Tracy Chandler to break free from the mold of traditional medicine and do things the natural way. Now the Timaru-based doctor, who holds regular patient clinics and seminars in Queenstown and Wanaka, specialises in ‘Integrative Medicine’ – a form of medicine and wellness that takes a holistic approach, looking at the whole person, and not just as an isolated set of symptoms.
At times she’s been challenged by medical colleagues, even heckled by one once during a public talk, for prioritising good nutrition, herbs and supplements in managing her patients, but for Tracy the proof is in the pudding…..victory for her patients.
Dr Tracy Chandler at the ready.
Canadian-born Tracy, grew up in England where she gained her medical degree, after already completing her biochemistry degree, which has proved very helpful in her current practice. While working as a conventional GP in England, a visit to New Zealand had her hooked on the South Island where she continued to work as a GP until several years ago.
“We’re pretty much taught at medical school, here’s the symptom and here’s a tablet,” says Tracy. However, the symptom is merely the warning light for our bodies. “If the warning light comes on in your car conventional medicine will usually take the bulb out by giving you a prescription or operation, whereas Integrative Medicine gets beneath the bonnet to see why the light is on and what’s wrong. It looks at the whole engine,” says Tracy. Her work is focused around helping the body to heal itself. She still uses the best of conventional medicine, but combines that with state-of-the-art Integrative Medicine tools and techniques. “It’s so much more rewarding,” says Tracy, who with her husband, Grant Andrew, has seven children. Her change in philosophy was as much for her family’s future as her own.
“Older people don’t have to put up with degenerative illnesses – nobody does,” she says. “Disease is either environmental or nutritional.”
“We’re living in a chemical soup. There are also chemicals in our foods which means they’re not so nutritionally valuable, putting extra pressure on the detox pathways in our bodies.”
Extreme fatigue and fevers four years ago led Tracy to many doctor colleagues and specialists to no avail until she consulted an Integrative Medicine doctor friend in Auckland. “He taught me how to treat myself the holistic way and I saw how powerful it was in my health and my family’s, so I studied and gained more qualifications,” she says.
Tracy still has full fellowship of the Royal NZ College of GP’s but is also now treasurer and a board member of the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. She recently created a document to help the patients of its 900 members throughout Australasia to get more comprehensive blood tests when they go to the lab. Government-approved ‘normal’ test level ranges need to be more specific for patient requirements, says Tracy. Most lab “normal” levels are based on the average for what is assumed to be a ‘healthy population’ but they’re not specific to “optimal health”.
“Us Integrative Medicine doctors want results that are optimal, not just OK,” she says. “For example, in some countries like Japan Vitamin B12 is treated if it’s below 500, whereas we don’t treat here until it’s below about 200, so I treat for anything below 500.” Tracy would love to see blood test reference ranges adjusted to optimal ranges as in the long run she believes it would save the Government health budget money.
There are also studies that show that a significant number of patients feel better and experience better long-term health outcomes with TSH (thyroid test) levels of around 2-3. The reference range for TSH currently is 0.4 to 4, but in many cases conventional medicine guidelines advise GP’s to only monitor TSH that is between 4-6 which is probably down to cost,” says Tracy.
Much of her work is centred around achieving good gut health and bacteria balance using probiotics and prebiotics (the foods that feed them). Using blood, hair, urine and stool testing, Tracy can ascertain metabolic energy function, identifying deficiencies or over-supply of nutritional components, and find out how well patients are absorbing foods. “We can also tell if people have an unhealthy level of metals, or other toxins, harmful bacteria or parasites.”
Diet is a big part of Tracy’s treatment regime and most patients need to go on some form of restriction to heal any inflammation or intolerance.
Stress management and lifestyle are also extremely important.
Tracy has treated a wide range of ailments with great success, but one of her favourite victories was a 10-year-old previously sporty boy who became bed-bound with chronic fatigue, and after seeing her, he was up skiing within six weeks of treatment.
“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” she smiles.